Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Epiphany 5b - Psalm 147

Psalm 147
The God of abundant power, who can hurl down hail like crumbs and whip up a winter storm on a whim, is the same God who heals the brokenhearted and lifts up the downtrodden. This God does not delight in the things that we might and although I love my strong horse Seraphina and hope for a personal best time when I run the Cowtown 5K in February we’d do well to pay attention to the things God cares about. God delights in those who hope in the steadfast love that speaks peace to Jerusalem.  Even though the God come down was cast out by his own people (who knew his ordinances) God did not deal with them as any other nation for the One cast out by Israel was the blessing to every people and every nation. To fear God, then, is to be people who care for the weak and weary and work for peace while singing praise to the gracious God of infinite patience.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Epiphany 5b - Isaiah 40:21-31

Isaiah 40:21-31
“Why do you say, my way is hidden from the Lord?” is the complaint of a person wearied by life’s demands. And having been “told from the beginning” is little help when all the indicators point to an absent Almighty. For the children of Israel it was captivity that wore them down so that they “sat by the waters of Babylon and wept” while wishing violence on the offspring of their oppressors. (Psalm 137) Our captivity is closer to home where loss of job or health or spouse saps our spirit so that we lament, “My cause is disregarded by God.” But the prophet speaks into their despair to remind them of what they have always known, the God of Jacob and Israel is a God of the living and not the dead, a God of infinite strength and beauty who cares for the powerless and will one day set them free. The promise is for us as well. The way out is always through. Waiting in hope for the Lord increases the power of the faint and renews the strength of the weary so that we are able to run the course set before us and claim the prize of the heavenward call of Christ.(Philippians 3:14)

Friday, January 27, 2012

Epiphany 4b - conclusion

We are grateful for rain in Texas, even if it comes five inches at a time. A lifelong friend, Kathryn Lucht, posted a “remember the 1967 Chicago snow” on Facebook this week and if Texas had been as cold as Chicago on Tuesday, 2012 would have been our 67. The “old timer’s memories of the 1967 Chicago snow were snow tunnels and igloos and cars buried on shut down expressways and a Lutheran grade school principal who never called a snow day in his life giving in and calling it a day – or two depending on how we “old timers” remember it.  Epiphany 4b is halfway between Christmas and Lent where memories of tinsel and tree are dim and Ash Wednesday is four weeks away. In Deuteronomy speaking a word about God remembers the past and anticipates the future.  In the psalm God remembers the covenant and asks us to do the same. The apostle Paul is willing to give up whatever is necessary to include those who would be excluded by their piety. And in the Gospel Jesus calls out an unclean spirit from a man in the synagogue but given what will happen to him he might have been better served by doing an exorcism on the scribes.  

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Epiphany 4b - Mark 1:21-28

Mark 1:21-28
Speaking as a scribe – with an unclean spirit - I‘m not sure what to think about this. I’m not saying I’m possessed; unless we’re talking about pride which more often than not is just the disguise worn by self-doubt. Truth is we are all possessed by unclean spirits, from overeating to overwork to sleeping one’s life away and as it turns out present day pastor scribes are no different than people in the pew especially when they pretend to be as holy as people in the pew might want them to be. I know I am taking this story in a direction it never intended to go but it occurs to me that the key to life in Christ was understood by the unclean spirits and rejected by the scribes. The unclean spirits “obeyed him.” The scribes crucified him. The good news for scribes with unclean spirits is that the Holy One of God did not come to destroy us but to give us life and love and freedom by calling us to come out of our places of possession. What is this? A new teaching? Maybe so. So obey and be free.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Epiphany 4b - 1 Corinthians 8:1-13

1 Corinthians 8:1-13
Differences in theology and practice rarely lead one side to change behavior so as not to offend the other. The more natural course of action is to demonize the opposition and become more firmly entrenched in the absolute truth of one’s own position. Meat sacrificed to idols was a big deal for those who all their life had been taught that destruction follows consumption and God’s righteous judgment could only be appeased by ritual purity. Even the apostle Peter cried, “Heaven forbid” when offered shrimp on the sheet! (Acts 10:14) Paul’s use of the term “weak believers” is not meant to denigrate their faith but merely point out that their trust in the mercy of God is not quite as free from constraints as is Paul’s and because he sees Christ in every believer, weak, strong and in-between he refrains from practicing his freedom so as not to offend. Maybe if we were to think of each other as family, claimed by Christ for whom and through whom all things exist, we would stop sinning against each other by always insisting on having it our way.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Epiphany 4b - Psalm 111

Psalm 111
The gracious and merciful Lord is ever mindful of his covenant, which is to say God remembers us even if we forget to give thanks with our whole heart. Of course the covenant is a two way street even if God does most of the heavy lifting.  And while we are always on the receiving end of God’s forever covenant of redemption it is God’s intention that in remembering us we would remember God and grow in grace becoming the faithful and just works of God’s hands.  When we practice the beginning of wisdom, which is to recognize God in the everyday and the extraordinary, God rejoices and our whole life is transformed into praise.  

Monday, January 23, 2012

Epiphany 4b - Deuteronomy 18:15-20

Deuteronomy 18:15-20
I speak “a word” about God everyday without worrying about the Deuteronomy consequences. But maybe in light of the warning (and even within the relative safety of the scriptures as the sole rule and authority and the constraint of the creeds) I should pause before speaking any more “words” about God as Gospel truth. After all God is beyond knowing and anything I might say about God is from my limited knowledge – we know in part and prophesy in part. (1 Corinthians 13:9) But then how can God be known unless we speak (Romans 10:14) So if I have misrepresented God in my preaching and teaching I hope I erred on the side of mercy and not judgment and I am betting my life that the cross will cover a multitude of misspeaks, though I have no doubt this prophet will one day die – though pray God not any time soon.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Epiphany 3b - conclusion

Dianne “Boots” Anderson was birthed into the life eternal yesterday and has taken her place in the vast cloud of witnesses. Her passing from death to life, while not easy, was peaceful and blessed by husband and grown children who sang the songs of faith to her and kissed her and laughed and wept and asked her to say “you betcha” one last time. We should all be so fortunate to be loved so well.  In the texts for Epiphany 3b we are so loved by a God who shows mercy to the hated Nineveh and challenges Jonah to do the same. In the psalm steadfast love belongs to God and that is the rock of our salvation upon which we stand when all around is shaking. Since the time is short the way we live each day as if it were the last is to trust that the God who loves holds all of our tomorrows. And the Gospel says it all in a sentence. God has come near so live the future in your present. “Boots” made a point to search me out every Sunday to tell me she prays for me every day. We should all be so fortunate to be loved so well. We’ll see you on the other side someday, Dianne, in the meantime I trust you’ll continue to pray for me as I need all the help I can get.  

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Epiphany 3b - Mark 1:14-20

Mark 1:14-20
Jesus has a one sentence sermon that says it all. The time is fulfilled – which means the future has come into the present. The kingdom of God has come near – which means God has come down to dwell with people and the reign of love is as close as your own breath. Repent – which is to say stop living in ways that deny the forever future reign of God can be realized today. Believe the good news – which means live like you trust it is true. The trouble is we have one foot firmly planted in the world while we tap a toe into the life of the forever future and never fully repenting of the past we never fully embrace the future. However, there are moments when random acts of kindness soften a harsh world or times when walking with a loved one right up to the edge of life death really does look like birth or when we become convinced of God’s love for us and others that we give ourselves and others a break and rejoice in the wonder of each moment. One sentence says it all.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Epiphany 3b - 1 Corinthians 7:29-31

1 Corinthians 7:29-31
If the appointed time has grown short the present form of this world is taking its sweet time passing away. That’s not to say we can’t live each day as if it were the last – not a bad way to live as it means we are more fully present in the present – but truth is Paul was wrong about the timing of Jesus’ return. Some might say that calls the whole work into question but I prefer my apostles to be as human as I am and I know the only truly accurate foresight I have is from the perspective of hindsight. So I’m going to say “no” to living as if I had no wife and I think Lisa would agree with me rather than the less than perfect apostle Paul. And in the week that began with the anniversary of Lisa’s brother Jeff taking his life (1/15/09) feeling badly about a tragic loss is not optional. I’m going to rejoice in a good friend who helps make ends meet and even though insurance did most of the buying I’m glad for a truck with tires. All that being said and trying to be true to Paul’s intent he does say to live “as if” which means we are free to live more fully into a life with those we pledge to love and mourn without despair and rejoice without needing cause and not place undue value in possessions for when Jesus broke free from the tomb the present form of the world did indeed pass away. That is good news for you and for me and for Jeff and all those whose hindsight is the foresight of the eternal future.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Epiphany 3b - Psalm 62:5-12

Psalm 62:5-12
Waiting in silence is not something that comes naturally to most, especially when unsteady circumstances call for a rock and salvation stronghold that cannot be shaken. Perhaps “pour out your hearts” should begin the psalm and “wait in silence” end it. Or maybe the two can be considered the same thing when one trusts that the God who searches hearts and minds knows what we need before we do. And even if our lives are relatively stable neither those of high degree nor low estate can long delay the inevitable for like a fleeting breath the span of life doesn’t even tip the scale of eternity. But if we trust our lives are in the hands of the one to whom steadfast love belongs we are able to endure even the specter of our inevitable end where we will be repaid according to our deeds for we believe because the rock of salvation was crowned with a cross “Lord have mercy” will not fall on deaf ears.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Epiphany 3b - Jonah 3:1-10

Jonah 3:1-10
God’s mind was changed but Jonah's heart was not. In the beginning of the story Jonah tries to avoid going to Nineveh because he believes God’s word and is counting on it. If the people of Nineveh do not repent they will be destroyed and since Jonah would like nothing more than that he goes in the opposite direction hoping to force God’s hand. But God trumps Jonah and has a great fish swallow him to get him to the church on time. Since the people of Nineveh worship a fish god in the form of a man Jonah doesn’t have to cry out very loudly to get the pagans to pay attention. Jonah is so angry he would rather die than endure God’s mercy for Israel’s enemies but then God is always more willing to forgive than we are. I know Lyle Lovett wasn’t thinking of this story when he wrote God Will but it seems to me if Jonah sang country he could put his heart into this song.  

“And who keeps on loving you
When you've been lying
Saying things ain't what they seem
God does
But I don't
God will
But I won't
And that's the difference
Between God and me.
Of course for those who believe the “difference between God and me” is Jesus which means there is no difference, for those who have been forgiven are to forgive.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Epiphnay 4b - conclusion

If we could live into the declaration of Psalm 139, “I am marvelously made” things would be different in our lives and subsequently in our world. As it is we live as if we, and everyone else, are less than and so we always want something more for ourselves and from others. But the texts for Epiphany 2b call us to see beyond what is to what will be. Samuel tossing and turning is called by God to speak a difficult word to Eli that will speak a better word for Israel. The Corinthians consumed by their passions are to understand they are not their own and are to live as those bought with a price. And Nathaniel is challenged to see beyond Jerusalem so he can accept the good that comes from Nazareth.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Epiphany 2b - John 1:43-51

John 1:43-51
Apparently Nathaniel’s disparaging remark about Nazareth is just plain old prejudice and doesn’t count as deceit. Or it could be that Jesus is engaging in a little sarcasm himself. At any rate the encounter with Jesus moves Nathaniel beyond his limited understanding of “can anything good come from Nazareth” to seeing the Good that came from the unlikely place. He proclaims “You are the Son of God” which is to say “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God… and we have beheld his glory…” (John 1:1, 14)  In the knowing Nathaniel becomes one who will see the future in the present because those who believe “have already passed from death to life.” (John 5:24) We are not so different from Nathaniel. We are often found sitting under the fig tree of our own religious prejudice. Can anything good come from St. Louis? (Lutheran Church Missouri Synod)  Or can anything good come from Chicago? (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) Or closer to home, can anything good come from the city on the hill – Dallas Theological Seminary? We who doubt whether good can come from places we dismiss need to be found under the fig trees of our limited understanding and like Nathaniel journey from guile to goodness so that the world will know the Good that came from Nazareth.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Epiphany 2b - 1 Corinthians 6:12-20

1 Corinthians 6:12-20
Corinth was the “sin city” of the 1st century and the Christians living there struggled to be “in the world but not of the world.” Judging by the contents of the correspondence they didn’t do very well and some, like the man sleeping with his father’s wife, even made the pagans blush.(1 Corinthians 5:1) So Paul’s caveat “not everything is beneficial” might have been lost on those who said “I have the right to do anything.” The trouble was a misapplication of the Gospel that had rightly repealed the requirements of the law, namely food restrictions, sacrifices and circumcision. A good number of the Corinthians thought that meant they were free to do as they pleased; after all they were saved by grace. We can fall into the same trap thinking that as long as we feel badly about whatever we’ve done we are good to go and do whatever again. Unfortunately Lutherans tend to be the most susceptible to what Dietrich Bonhoeffer labeled “cheap grace”. The cost of sin was born by Christ but we continue to run a tab whenever we are mastered by the very things from which Christ has set us free. But the Lutheran two step of Law/Gospel was always meant to lead to an amendment of sinful ways albeit without dancing into the sin of being sanctimonious, not an easy step to master. The good news is that those united with Christ are one with His spirit which means help is always just a prayer away.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Epiphany 2b - Psalm 139

I went to take my daughter to school early this morning only to discover that in the night someone had jacked my tires and my Chevy Silverado Texas Edition was not going anywhere anytime soon. Neither was this blog which I found took some time to want to write. But God is good and provides in the comfort and aid of family and friends (and very kind and attentive All State agents) My hope is that those who steal will one day understand how what appeared to be a gain was really a loss and that the human family is just that, a family, and that they stole from their brother who wished them no harm.

Here is the hope of the eternal future. All people will finally and forever live as those who know they are “marvelously made”. As it is we either overvalue ourselves, always thinking we deserve something more; or undervalue ourselves, never fully accepting who we are. Of course the nature of sin is that we who are “marvelously made” can’t quite live into what that means, even if there are moments when we come close. The good news is that God remembers we are dust and knowing us before we were formed will recognize us even when unto dust we return. For the God who knew us before we were formed is as close as our own breath and fashioned in the image of the divine God delights in our very being. Therefore we who are marvelously made are to delight in everyone else formed in the same way, which is to say please don’t steal my tires.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Epiphany 2b - 1 Samuel 3:1-20

1 Samuel 3:1-20
The call of Samuel is a sad story for Eli but then his response to the word Samuel receives indicates Eli knew it was coming and in some ways welcomed it. His sons were scoundrels, stealing sacrifices and sleeping with the women who served at the tent of meeting. Eli rebuked them but only as a plea and not as a parent so that the sins of the sons were visited upon the father and vice versa. Samuel, on the other hand, learned well from Eli and in many ways was the son Eli wished his boys could have been. That’s not to say that children who behave well in public are not sinners, we are all infected by the rebellious ways of the first couple, but unlike Eli’s sons Samuel listened to the Lord. We’d like to think that our actions or inactions don’t have consequences and while we don’t operate with some sort of Christian Karma, what we do, or don’t do, matters; which is to say what the Lord would have us do begins with listening.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Baptism of Our Lord - conclusion

I took the day off from blogging but wrote some new words based on Sunday's Gospel for the African American spiritual Wade in the Water .

Wade in the Water – Mark 1:4-11 Verses by Phil Heinze 1/5/12

Chorus: Wade in the water; wade in the water children,
              Wade in the water, the Lord’s gonna trouble the water.

John the Baptist wore a camel hair coat; Wade in the water
Ate honey and locusts don’t you know; Wade in the water

All the people went down to hear John preach; Wade in the water
Said One is coming that is greater than me; Wade in the water

When Jesus came down to the river that day; Wade in the water
The voice from heaven had something to say; Wade in the water

The voice said this is my beloved Son; Wade in the water
Jesus the Christ, the anointed One; Wade in the water

You are beloved in God’s eyes; Wade in the water
That’s what it means to be baptized; Wade in the water

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Baptism of Our Lord Year B - Mark 1:4-11

Laughing Dove - Range includes Israel
Mark 1:4-11
I’ve always thought the Holy Spirit descending like a dove was an odd way for the Holy Spirit to appear. Some Dove lovers may disagree but I don’t think doves make a very graceful descent. There’s a lot of flapping involved and their landings look a little unsteady to me. Of course the theological connection with baptism is the dove’s association with purity and innocence and the dove of the flood who returns with the olive branch to let Noah know all is well. (Matthew 10:16). On the other hand I like the idea of the Holy Spirit coming down like a dove as opposed to a Red Tailed Hawk (which when circling overhead makes the chickens in our yard very nervous) So the Spirit descends on the Son this way and that with a lot of flapping and not like a ballistic bird missile with claws at the ready. And the Voice from heaven declared what John the Baptizer and everyone else had been waiting for. “When the time had fully come…” is how Paul describes it, the Beloved born of Mary was born again in water and word. That’s good news for those of us who in remembering our baptism (even if we can’t) find a sure and certain hope that God comes to us as a Dove and not a Raptor and as far as God is concerned we too are beloved.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Baptism of Our Lord Year B - Acts 19:1-7

Acts 19:1-7
The book of Acts makes it sound as easy as 1-2-3. All it takes is a one sentence explanation and these disciples of John who have never “even heard there is a Holy Spirit” become disciples of Jesus and start speaking in tongues. We live in a world where people tend to hold onto what they know a little more tightly and are suspicious of things “we’ve not even heard of”. But maybe these disciples of John were looking for the “one whose sandals I am unworthy to tie” just like John was and all they needed was someone to say, “we’ve have found the one you are looking for.” Maybe it is easy for us as well as long as we are ready to give a reason for the hope we have (1 Peter3:15) since it seems like we live in a time when people are anxious for something to hope in. But that means we will have to do something Lutherans generally “have not even heard of” namely talking about Jesus outside of church.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Baptism of Our Lord - Psalm 29

You might want to take cover when the small g gods ascribe to the Lord the glory due God’s name. That’s because they recognize the voice of the Lord in thunder and lightning and earth shaking wilderness and bowing down is what you do when the earth starts to skip like a calf. While the ancients attributed such displays of power to supernatural forces they are no less terrifying when one can explain how a super cell becomes super. So a place to hide might come in handy when “ascribe to the Lord” whips up a storm and strips the oak trees bare. There are times when our personal world is shaken and all pretense of being in control is broken so that bowed low we are tempted to ascribe to the Lord blame rather than glory. The psalmist believes God is responsible for everything – the good, the bad, and the in-between – and so praise and plea are the same thing. O Lord, give strength to your people is as much a prayer for the blessing of peace as it is a promise for a place to hide.

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Baptism of Our Lord Year B - Genesis 1:1-5

Genesis 1:1-5
The debate about creation tends to argue about how long it took to get the formless void to take the shape we recognize.  Personally I don’t think the account is about how long it took, but I am perfectly willing to accept that if God wanted the challenge of creation in six twenty-four hour days God was up to it. I find the more difficult question to be why. Some will say that it was out of love that God said, “Let there be light” but I am sure the universe would have been just as happy as a formless void without the darkness humanity has visited upon it. I know I wouldn’t care if I’d never been. How would I even know the difference? So I don’t think the first act of creation was about us. It was about God’s need to bring order to chaos so that God’s creative nature could be expressed in the crowning achievement of creation. And though the scriptures record Adam’s reaction to Eve as “flesh of my flesh” I image God’s reaction after breathing life into the dust that became flesh to be so similar as to be the same. So I stand corrected. It was all about love.